Microsoft Australia small business group manager, Kevin Burke, has hit back over a newspaper article that berated the vendor over the planning of a controversial referral scheme.
The article in The Australian detailed a new referral plan Burke proposed over lunch at the recent Microsoft for Partners information update for channel partners in Adelaide.
The plan, which Burke states was never a firm reality, was merely the product of a discussion aimed at how best to help small business select IT service providers, he said.
“It’s only a concept,” Burke said. “It may never be built. We [Microsoft] won’t be building it. It may never be built by anyone.”
In Bourke’s version of events, the lunchtime feedback session covered what partners do to find new customers and what partners can do to find each other.
“The most common way small business or anyone finds a partner is through a referral," he said. "They want a trusted referral."
“With 1.4 million small businesses in Australia and 20,000 members in the channel, how do you get that connection between the customer and the partner so that the customer knows the partner does a good job?”
Burke for his part doesn’t have a specific idea of how to operate the system or the criteria that partners would be graded against. However, he does envision an Amazon.com or Ingenio.com style system where end-users would give personal comments and feedback.
“We [Microsoft] would not set the criteria," he said. "The only way to make this a natural and scalable system is to [follow] Amazon’s or other end-user reviews [model].”
Managing director of Microsoft reseller Equal IT, Ben Curnow, said independence was key to a successful referral system.
“It was quite clear that partners wanted an independent referral engine that you couldn’t buy your way in to," he said. "You had to be genuinely recommended by someone, you couldn’t just pay so your listing comes up first.”
Curnow also said that much of the controversy surrounding the idea stemmed from the suggestion that the referral system be based on Microsoft accreditation and certification.
“A lot of the newer partners were against the accreditation process,” he said. “They were arguing, particularly for small businesses, that customers would have to pay more for service if the partner was certified.”
Burke said the possibility of a competitor putting up a false review or a partner putting up their own positive review was a cause of concern. He said aknowledged resellers fears of potential manipulation of reviews and maintained that the system would have to be independent. “Our proposal has always been that it has to be independent," he said. "It’s critical that it be independent.”
For the full story, see this week's ARN.